On Saturday night, March 4, welterweight champion Keith “One Time” Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) will defend his title against Danny “Swift” Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. He’ll do it in front of a sell out crowd of fight enthusiasts, but also in front of a primetime viewing audience across the country with the fight airing on CBS beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
There’s no more pure or pristine result than two champions, in their prime (28), and undefeated. The winner will be welterweight champion and well up the rungs of the pound-for-pound kings of pugilism.
Keith Thurman, who not only has an innate and acute sense of the sport and himself, but also sees himself as equal parts boxer and ambassador for boxing, spent some time talking to CBS Local Sports about the bout and what made him the fighter he is today.
Jason Keidel: When did you first put on gloves?
Thurman: When I was seven years old. My first trainer was Ben Getty, who worked with me from age 7 to 20. And at age 14, wherever we went, he told me and everyone that, “this boy will be champ.”
Keidel: When did you fall in love with boxing?
Thurman: Also at age seven. We had after school exhibitions at the local YMCA. A kid in my class… smallest kid in the school… he got up on stage and he was throwing combinations that Ben taught him. I said, “man, who knew little Johnny could fight like that?” I took the paperwork home for my mom to sign, and walking into my apartment, took three steps, reached in my backpack and grabbed the paperwork, and she signed.
My dad did martial arts. My dad and I watched Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies when I was five. I got beat up a lot at a young age. But then I got better.
Keidel: When did you know you’d be any good at it?
Thurman: I was about eight and I fought someone who was nine. About five pounds apart. He had some nice muscles for a kid and was whipping me. Then there was a sparring session about two weeks later and i knocked him down. I did it because I was training between sparring sessions and he wasn’t.
Keidel: Which is more important – talent or persistence?
Thurman: Equally important. Talent is necessary, especially in competitive sports. But without determination and work ethic talent is wasted. Ben put it (determination) in me. Ben Getty was a military man Vietnam veteran. And he was Ft. Bragg’s strength and conditioning coach. I saw Ben take many kids off the street and turn them into amateur champions.
Keidel: When did you know you wanted to pursue boxing professionally?
Thurman: I started thinking about it seriously around 13 or 14. At 14 or 15 years old I’d won three national championships. Silver Gloves.
Keidel: What’s your walk around weight?
Thurman: Depends. Sometimes 168 pounds. Can go up to 173/174. But making weight is never a problem. And I keep a cardio regimen. As I’m getting older, 165 will be ideal.
Keidel: How long is your average training camp?
Thurman: 8-10 weeks.
Keidel: How long did it take to finalize this fight?
Thurman: Quick and easy. Al Haymon handled it.
Keidel: Is Garcia your toughest foe yet?
Thurman: That’s my favorite question, and one I never answer, because I can’t until we fight. I never rate a fighter until I fight him.
Keidel: What’s the hardest part of Garcia’s game to face?
Thurman: He’s flat-footed, so we should be able to box around him. That’s the typical mindset. But what you don’t understand is he’s always on balance. Being flat-footed is one of his greatest strength. His balance. He’s willing to commit and trade with you at all times. He’s willing to trade, blow for blow. I have fewer fights but more KOs. I look forward to gauging his true punching power. He does have true power. He didn’t put Robert Guerrero on his back. I did. He knocks people out on their feet more than on their back. I think that’s a good way of gauging people’s power.
Keidel: What part of your game will be hardest for him to handle?
Thurman: Everything. My diversity in particular. My ability to change it up. I like to be unpredictable. One of my best fights was Julio Diaz: my first for Showtime. After the second round he went back to his corner. When they tried to give him advice he said I was awkward. They didn’t know I was awkward. I prepare my training camp for my opponent to stay awkward.
Keidel: Name some of your favorite fighters growing up?
Thurman: I started off with Mike Tyson. But at welterweight, I liked Aaron Pryor. I loved his skill and determination. And his handle, “The Hawk.”
Keidel: Did you pattern your style after anyone?
Thurman: Not really. I always wanted to be my own fighter. I take techniques from a lot of fighters. Like (Muhammad) Ali and his triple jab.
Keidel: How has PBC helped the sport?
Thurman: PBC has done some amazing things over the past several years. I’m truly honored and blessed to be at the forefront of it. I led it with my fight vs Robert Guerrero on NBC. Then me and Shawn Porter on CBS with 4.2 million fans watching. Now CBS primetime again with two undefeated champs. Toe to Toe.
A reporter recently told me that this is only the third time two undefeated welterweight champions have squared off in the ring. The last time was Oscar De La Hoya vs Felix Trinidad (in 1999).
Keidel: Do you feel the sport needs stars?
Thurman: Boxing needs to stay with network TV so that the American people can see it for free. Boxing doesn’t need a Mayweather in the sense that he so strategically promoted himself. They need to face other great fighters and it shouldn’t take so long to manifest.
Keidel: Are you the next star?
Thurman: Media and television create stars. I didn’t do this (boxing) to become a star. I’m here for the fight game. I was just happy to fight on HBO way back. I felt I’d made it. Now I’m on CBS on primetime.
Keidel: Any desire to move up in weight?
Thurman: Yeah. I see myself moving up. But I wanna make history at 147 pounds. When they talk about the best welterweights, I want my name mentioned.
Keidel: Best fight so far in your career?
Thurman: The Diego Chavez fight. We were both undefeated. he was 18-0 and i was 20-0. It went exactly as I wanted. I was just there willing to take it from him.
Keidel: Hardest fights of your pro career?
Thurman: Shawn Porter and Diego Chavez.
Keidel: Most defining fight?
Thurman: The Chavez fight put me on the map. Two fighters who wanted it. In the fifth round I made a decision. This kid is real. I switched from finesse to power to finesse. Sure enough I hit him with body shots in the ninth, then tenth, to close the show. The Shawn Porter fight was second. Again, another fighter who wouldn’t back down. Took my best shots. We showed our will to win. I showed my will to win. The Porter camp swore they would break Keith Thurman down at the end of the night. The opposite happened, and it was PBC Fight of the Year.
Keidel: Do you think this fight will inspire other fighters to take the toughest/best fights?
Thurman: Me and Shawn Porter set a good example and me and Danny are setting good examples. It’s up to promoters, too, to make good fights. Boxing is making a turn and a change. We’re tapping into the new generation of fighters. Manny Pacquiao won’t be here forever, a legend and champion in his own right. We are beyond the Klitschkos and such. Boxing is at a crossroads. New talent is peaking. We have a great future, as fighters and fans.
Keidel: How long would you like to fight?
Thurman: Five years from now I think hopefully I’ll have a nice pension and be able to retire. But I can give the sport, god willing, if I’m injury free, seven more years.
Keidel: Is Brooklyn your favorite place to fight?
Thurman: It’s becoming my favorite place. I love Vegas. I love California. I love Tampa. When it comes to cities, NYC has the history. The fans of NYC are the greatest city in america, always have been. And there’s nothing like the diversity of NYC. My third time fighting here. Fans have given me nothing but love and respect.
Keidel: If you could fight anyone in history, who would it be?
Thurman: If I could go all the way back… I’d go back to the best: Sugar Ray Robinson.